INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A Republican lawmaker pushed Monday to strip away much of the authority Indiana’s state and local public health officials have used to impose restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would prohibit health officials from steps such as imposing limits on the number of customers allowed inside a business or restricting medical services that hospitals could provide, along with blocking restrictions on religious services or private schools.
Such steps under Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive orders over the past 10 months have stirred some conservative opposition and prompted debate in the GOP-dominated Legislature on measures limiting the governor’s emergency powers authority and preventing employers from requiring workers to receive immunizations against COVID-19 or any other disease.
But the bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Morris of Fort Wayne would go much further in limiting state authority than one written by House Majority Leader Matt Lehman of Berne.
Lehman’s proposal would require the General Assembly to be called into session for an extension of a governor’s emergency order beyond 60 days, but doesn’t limit any current authority that’s been aimed at stemming spread of the coronavirus that the state health department says has killed nearly 10,000 people in Indiana with some 2,000 more currently hospitalized.
The Republican-dominated Indiana House commerce committee Monday added restriction provisions proposed by Morris to his bill without any advanced notice and could vote on the bill next week.
Morris argued that state and local officials had gone too far in restricting businesses and that they had no right to place limits on attendance for religious services, including weddings and funerals, and require face masks and social distancing as was done during the early weeks of pandemic limitations last spring.
“I don’t feel that government should tell someone how they worship and what they wear and how they do it. And that’s really what our Constitution states as well,” Morris said. “So, we can recommend things, but to actually tell the church what they can and cannot do, I don’t feel that that’s correct.”
Neither Lehman nor Republican House Speaker Todd Huston immediately commented Monday on the provisions proposed by Morris.
Democratic Rep. Rita Fleming of Jeffersonville, a medical doctor, argued during the committee meeting that rolling back coronavirus safeguards now wasn’t wise and that not even churches should be exempt.
“It is the right of everyone in the community to be free of disease where possible,” Fleming said.